While watching scenes of barbaric mobs storming the US embassies in several Arab towns, I never imagined that Tunisia would one day play host to a spectacularly ugly movie featuring my own people attacking an embassy, setting fire to a school and vandalizing its equipment.
The violent protest that took place after the Friday prayer near the US embassy resulted in four deaths with several seriously injured. Dense columns of thick black smoke ascended from the parking lot of the building as furious groups armed with Molotov cocktails and stones stormed it in the once calm neighbourhood of Les Berges du Lac. Throwing petrol bombs at the police is apparently an effective way of expressing one’s fury over an amateur offensive movie that mocks the prophet Mohammed.
Talk about the ‘Innocence of Muslims’! How can they make the mistake of believing that the US government monopolises the movie industry as do governments in the Arab world, and has thus produced the absurd movie that triggered these events? This online movie has never been shown in a single cinema - but it has been widely circulated in the streets of the Middle East. An individual act of intolerance and Islamaphobia has led many people to accuse a whole country of conspiring to degrade the prophet. Indeed, these hardline people who call themselves Muslims have insulted the Holy prophet and Islam more than the movie ever did.
Under the name of ‘victory to the holy prophet’, a school adjacent to the embassy was set on fire. After vandalizing its property, trees, embassy staff cars, and school buses were set alight with the loss of three lives, all under the pretext of defending Islam and the prophet. “Obama, Obama we are all Osama “they chanted, referring to the founder of Al Qaeda killed in 2011 by US forces. This was the point when I finally realised that these people make no distinction between individual acts, the government, and the people; they are all the same and if one citizen of a given country attacks my religion, then I accuse the whole nation-state of responsibility for this shameful act. That is the rationale of those ‘soldiers of God’.
Tunisia ‘s ruling ‘moderate’ party condemned the attack on the US Embassy but they have failed to preserve the moderate nature of Tunisia since they came to power. The Salafis and other hardline Muslims seem to be uncontrollable and immune to a firm stance on the part of the government. They have turned a blind eye to the Imams of mosques who have added religious fuel to the fire, promoting violence in their Friday preaching.
On the other hand, the voices of the moderate go unnoticed and under reported by mainstream media. Some campaigns have been launched on social media voicing the perspective of those moderates who, while feeling offended by the movie, have nevertheless opted for peaceful means in response to the video. They share catchy but short stories, quotes and parts of the message of the messenger, such as, “I was not sent to invoke curses, but rather than I was only sent as a mercy”.
While writing this article I thought of dedicating a special thought to Muhammad, my friend who lost his life trying to reach Italy, Muhammad, who lived under the poverty line, Muhammad Bouazizi who ended his own life in this Muslim country.